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Update from the AIR on last week

My apologies for not posting this after the shifts. I got caught up in packing/preparing for my trip to Hawaii. I type this sitting on layover in the majestic Phoenix airport with a view of several USAirways Airbus 319s, “downtown” Phoenix, and Chase Field – home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Anywho, I’m pumped to be getting away from Columbia for a few days. I haven’t left the state of Missouri since January, so this trip is a much-needed break from America’s Heartland. Let me explain how my trip has gone so far:

Woke up at 1:30am. Left for MCI (Kansas City) at about 2. Arrived there 4:30am. Upon parking and waiting for the shuttle bus, I encountered some of the dumbest travelers I’ve ever seen. They had been standing waiting for the shuttle bus for “half an hour” and had no idea the shuttle didn’t run between midnight and 5am unless it was called for on the little hotline phone inside the bus shelter. Then, when the bus showed up and we boarded, they proceeded to have an extremely asinine conversation in a far too-energetic manner for 4:30am. Basically, all rules of travel etiquette appeared to not exist in their minds – loud conversation, getting in people’s way, and displaying an overall cluelessness in an extremely easy airport to navigate.

The flight was uneventful until the descent into Phoenix, when I got to see the amazing topography surrounding Phoenix. I was shocked at all those little pimply mountains coming up from the ground with houses surrounding them. And, the basic notion of Phoenix being in a massive desert valley with huge mountains around it just seems bizarre having been in the Midwest for what feels like forever. I’m also weirded out by all the West Coast people in here. They call this place “America’s Friendliest Airport”…which is a little creepy but hey, whatever. As long as I arrive in Hawaii in one piece…

Anyway, Monday’s shift saw me come in with a couple of tough ideas. I had hoped to work on a story I saw in the Jefferson City News-Tribune about low water levels in Taos. But, everyone I called either knew nothing about what I was talking about, or didn’t call me back or answer their messages. With a backup story of the Jefferson City Salvation Army receiving a meat grinder from Safari Club, I figured that’d be the best way to go to make sure I had something for the day. It definitely was not an ideal story but I did the best I could to shoot enough video for a package and have enough of a human-interest angle to make it interesting. Hence, why I shot off the shoulder a lot to show New Jersey-native Gene Rurka demonstrating how the meat grinder would work, and then later to ask one of the kitchen workers how the grinder would help. Everyone I spoke with gave me some good bites, but it wasn’t overly riveting video. Once we spoke with the people we wanted, and I shot a standup, with help from KOMU’s high school intern Coleman, we went to try and get video of meat in Jefferson City. We tried the Schnucks on Missouri Blvd but the manager didn’t want us filming inside without him there – he was apparently in a meeting, and couldn’t come out of it. So we went across the street to a butcher, and he refused to allow us to bring the camera inside. He said he had a bad experience with “you news people” before and that it was “a personal principle” that he would no longer talk with reporters. He didn’t say what station it was, but he mentioned his adversity to the press formed when he was interviewed for a Mad Cow disease story and he felt misquoted about the disease or its impact on him. I was disappointed because I wanted to just get a few shots of raw meat or something that could go inside the grinder, but this butcher’s vague media horror story left me annoyed. I tried to assure him we didn’t even want to talk to him on camera, but that still didn’t assuage him. So, we left the butcher’s shop and went back to KOMU. I had a vo/sot for the 5 and a package for the 6 – thankfully the producers killed the idea of another vo/sot for the 10 as they felt “ground out” about the story.

After the newscasts, Kent made a great point about my story, saying the Salvation Army and Safari Club “owe [Brian] a lot of money for all the publicity you gave them.” I totally agree – that was definitely the downside to this reporting shift. I’m NOT a fan of staged photo-op events like the meat grinder thing. And the way the representatives of each group behaved toward the camera really indicated to me a desire for us to give them good publicity – one man sycophantically thanked us repeatedly for no reason at all – signifying a “Hey, we love photo ops and we’re going to be nice to you so you make us look good!” sort of mentality. Anyway, I’m glad I was able to make it work despite the story’s overall flaws.

I pick up writing from 25,000+ feet above the Arizona desert. It’s incredible. I’ve tried to take as many pictures as possible with my crappy point-and-shoot camera. I can’t begin to describe how cool/weird it all looks. I’ve never been through here, and we have a terrific day for sightseeing while flying – Clear skies, very few clouds, and a window seat looking south. I keep thinking as we fly over these endless mountains and valleys, “HOLY SHIT THAT’S AREA 51!” or “Goddamn, that’s where they blew up a few nukes”. I’ve also been wondering where Yucca Mountain is. Many of these mountains and such appear to have dirt roads traversing them. I keep getting images of the scene from “Grapes of Wrath” when the family is driving across the desert just trying to survive. Makes me realize how cool/advanced we are as a society to be just cruising along at 35,000 feet above the scorching desert. **Post-writing Addition – I spoke with my Mom once I landed in Hawaii, and she said the area around Phoenix is like the moon, but red – and I completely agree. It does appear similar!**

Anyway, enough of that. About my shift from Wednesday – I arrived with a couple of decent story ideas I hoped would work out. I pitched them all – Jen seemed to like them – but she told me about “this Gasconade County thing” that needed to be covered. After a very basic rundown of the story, she told me to call Nick Berardini to get the gist of it. So, I spoke with him about it, got the lowdown, and got a few names of people I should talk to about the story. Basically, these 2 county commissioners added $10,000 each to their salaries in 1999 and 2000, and got away with it. Several concerned citizens of the county found out about the extra money from a state audit in 2002 that said the extra pay was illegal. Another audit in 2006 said the same thing. So, these citizens sued in 2007 to try and recover the money. In 2008, in a Franklin County court (a Gasconade judge hearing the case in Franklin) the judge ruled the commissioners must pay back the extra money plus interest – also noting the commissioners’ clear guilt based on the evidence at trial. The commissioners appealed the ruling to the Missouri Court of Appeals (Eastern District) on the basis that Missouri’s 5-year statute of limitations outlaws the original ruling forcing them to pay back the money. The judge agreed, and overturned the first decision – meaning the commissioners were off the hook simply because, “You didn’t catch us in time” as one source told me.

It took me a while to fully grasp the details of the case, but it sounded very interesting from the getgo. As I drove out to Hermann, I called several people who told me more about the situation and who would be good to speak with on-camera. I arrived in Hermann and made my way to the Glenn Oaks Winery, home of Glenn Warnebold. Warnebold was originally on the side of the citizens, but changed his position after a period of time in which he “realized the facts of the case”, and began to support the commissioners. Nick told me not to talk to the commissioners, so I didn’t bother trying to contact them. I think in retrospect it would have been good to get their side of the story straight from them, but I was happy with how the story came out regardless. So, I enjoyed a quick tour of the winery and then hit the road. I shot a little bit of video in downtown Hermann, then went back to Columbia. One of the men I spoke with on the way to Hermann was Mike Jacquin, who has been heavily involved with the case on the side of the citizens. While he is a Gasconade County resident, he was in Columbia at Boone Hospital helping his brother with a surgery. We met outside the hospital and I just interviewed him there. I loved how my story had such polar opposite viewpoints – the “let’s play nice” view of Warnebold and the “Hell no, we won’t” of Jacquin.

When I got back to the station I had to take about half an hour to figure out how I could write the story in a way that was not too confusing or too full of legal jargon. I didn’t have much video to use, so we grabbed some of Nick’s file video from last year, which worked out well because he had footage of the commissioners. Kent was able to help me really boil down the issues to something people could understand. I went on-set for the 6 in the A block, which was fun, and then had a vo/sot for the 10.

I really enjoyed the story because it had so much controversy in it. It is just juicy-full of good stuff, and it’s still not over yet. I also thought the 2 men I spoke with, even with completely opposing viewpoints, were hilarious. They both said stuff I could not help but laugh at. I also enjoyed the legal exchanges involved in this story. Whether that’s an indication I should be a lawyer…I don’t know…But I had a good time reporting this story and I’d love to stay on it. Jacquin told me he would stay in touch with me and keep me posted on what happens.

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